Top 5 Tuesday: Most Polarizing Athletes

Athletes have long transcended sports. As cultural icons, they are loved and hated, idolized and vilified. Many fit this description, but we here at THE SPORTS DISPENCER scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s most polarizing figures.

5. Tim Tebow

As a college standout at Florida, Tebow was a member of two national title teams and became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. As a pro, he has proven his ability to win. Rooted in his strong evangelical faith, Tebow seems to do everything right.  However, many sports fans simply cannot stand him. Overexposure has led many spectators to detract from his accomplishments. His atypical throwing motion and exuberant personality may deter common sports fans, but until he falters, we are left to conclude that Tebow is indeed God’s quarterback.

4. Shoeless Joe Jackson

With a .356 career batting average, Shoeless Joe’s career accomplishments rank him among the best of the early twentieth century. His talented play puts him in the same conversation as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and the other greats of baseball’s infancy, yet one of history’s finest will never have his name read at Cooperstown. Because of his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Shoeless Joe was banned from baseball. Jackson admits to early involvement but has refuted the idea that he helped throw the 1919 World Series. Many point to his twelve hits and .375 average as proof, but his poor fielding performance does not help his case. Even if he is acquitted by the MLB, it will be difficult for Jackson’s legacy to become disassociated with the scandal with which its long been intertwined.

3. Barry Bonds

With one swing of the bat, Barry Bonds launched a ball over the right-center field wall. The home run was his 756th, breaking Hank Aaron’s record for the most homers in baseball history. A fierce debate started soon thereafter. Many believed the Giants’ slugger had not broken the home record — he stole it. Bonds’ reported steroid use is up for heated discussion. He is a central figure in baseball’s steroid scandal, and his alleged involvement leaves many unwilling to recognize his accomplishments. In addition, his brash, insolent personality when dealing with both the media and his teammates leave few rooting for Bonds outside of the Bay area.

2. O.J. Simpson

At his peak, O.J. was a near unstoppable running back. At USC, Simpson won the Heisman by one of the largest margins in the award’s storied history. In the NFL, O.J. garnered six Pro Bowl selections and four NFL rushing titles, but perhaps his greatest feat was in 1983 when the Buffalo Bills back rushed for over 2,000 yards in a fourteen-game season. After he retired from football,  Simpson remained in the public eye. He delighted audiences with his appearances on The Naked Gun and Monday Night Football, but in the summer of 1994, public perception quickly changed. O.J. was charged with deaths of his Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman but was later acquitted in part due to his marquee defense counsel anchored by Robert Kardashian. Since his acquittal, many have questioned O.J.’s innocence until  2007 when he was sentenced up to thirty-three years for his involvement in a Las Vegas robbery case.

1. Muhammad Ali

Perhaps the greatest athlete of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali is a true cultural icon. Long know for his unorthodox fighting style, Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee en route to becoming the first and only three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion. In 1967, however, the man formerly known as Cassius Clay made headlines with his refusal to be drafted into the United States military. His refusal to serve in Vietnam was well-documented. He notably remarked, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me n*****.” His statement echoed the sentiment of many at the time but his remark came before widespread Vietnam protests had begun. Ali’s stance on Vietnam exemplified his willingness to voice his mind. As a boxer, Ali was known for his profuse trash talk and unwillingness to back down from a challenge.

Now in his seventies, “The Louisville Lip” has picked up a different fight. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, Ali turned to the role of activist, spreading awareness of the affliction while remaining one of America’s most notable public figures.

* Photos Courtesy of Red Clear Sports, ESPNInquistr

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

Advertisements

Top 5 Tuesday: Most Unbreakable Records

The record books are constantly rewritten, but several marks have managed to stand the test of time. The sports world has provided us countless examples, but we here at THE SPORTS DISPENCER have scoured the records to compile five of history’s most unbreakable records.

5. MLB’s Most Career Steals

Long-regarded as the top baserunner in history, first-ballot hall of famer Rickey Henderson holds one of baseball’s most coveted records. On May 1, 1991, Henderson passed Lou Brock to become the all-time leader. Twelve years later, Rickey concluded his four-decade career with an unbelievable total of 1,406 stolen bases. Players may possess the skills and longevity to near a 1,000, but it would take over 70 seventy steals for 20 consecutive seasons in order to challenge Henderson’s untouchable mark.

4. MLB’s Most Complete Games

Since Cy Young threw his final pitch, baseball has drastically changed. Gone are the days of pitchers throwing 20-plus complete games a season, and present are the days of pitch counts, bullpens, and managers limiting innings. Few pitchers in the modern game bear the talent to make a run at Cy Young’s mark, but no manager would allow a season’s pitch count to rise that high. So for now, Young’s 749 complete games remain a testament to baseball’s rugged stars of the early twentieth century.

3. MLB’s Most Consecutive Starts

Durability is a valuable trait in sports. An athlete’s ability to perform day in and day out is crucial for a team’s short and long term success. In his 20-year career, Cal Ripken, Jr. embodied unrelenting durability. While garnering two MVPs and 19 All-Star nods, the Baltimore Orioles star passed Lou Gehrig en route to 2,632 consecutive games. His 17-year streak surpasses any in American professional sports and will keep Ripken in record books for years to come.

2. NBA’s Highest PPG Average in a Season

Scoring fifty points in an NBA game is difficult. Averaging 50 points for a week is very difficult. Averaging 50 points for a season is ridiculous. In the 1961-62 season, NBA great Wilt Chamberlain averaged a mind-boggling 50.4 points per game. Since his record-shattering season, many of basketball’s best have passed through the league, but between Magic, Bird and Jordan, a 37.1 average was the closest effort put forth. If MJ cannot match it, who can?

1. College Football’s Most Lopsided Victory

After Cumberland defeated Georgia Tech’s baseball team 22-0, legendary coach John Heisman wanted to make a statement. On October 7, 1916, Georgia Tech crushed Cumberland by the unbelievable score of 222-0. The Ramblin’ Wreck pounded the ragtag Bulldogs team with an unrelenting might. Many believe Heisman’s true reasoning for running up the score was to send a message to voters. At the time, teams were ranked by the number of points scored. Heisman vehemently disagreed with this process. He unleashed Georgia Tech’s full forces, who scored on every set of downs. Regardless of the reasoning, Georgia Tech’s unfathomable win has remained uncontested, earning it a place atop history’s finest.

What do you think? Anything we missed? What would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of Sportige, SouthernMemories.com

Top 5 Tuesday: Sports History’s Most Patriotic Moments

Tomorrow will mark two-hundred thirty-six years of American independence. Two-hundred thirty-six years since Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and John Hancock signed his — well, “John Hancock.” The past centuries have provided many definitive moments, and sports history is no exception. Today, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s most patriotic moments.

5. Reaction to the Death of Osama Bin Laden

On May 1, 2011, a covert operation captured and killed Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani compound. Courtesy of social media, news spread rapidly before an official announcement was made, eventually reaching the fans of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. There, a nationally broadcast matchup between the Mets and Phillies was briefly interrupted in the top of the ninth when jubilant spectators erupted into chanting U-S-A. Although in the midst of a tightly contested NL East matchup, rival fans put their team allegiances aside and reveled in a marquee American moment.

4. “Dream Team”

At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, the U.S. men’s basketball team — composed of college stars — stumbled to an unacceptable third place finish. Four years later, FIBA turned to the NBA to supply a lineup capable of returning American basketball to atop the podium. By enlisting the game’s best and brightest stars, the world could not compete, losing by an average of 43.8 points. From Bird to Magic to Barkley to Jordan, the U.S.’s elite squad dazzled audiences, seized the gold, and brought glory to the “Stars and Stripes.”

3. Super Bowl XXXVI Halftime Show

As the United States continued to recover, Super Bowl XXXVI served as a platform to pay tribute to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After U2 treated the sold out Superdome crowd to an upbeat rendition of “Beautiful Day”, the scene changed. Behind the band, two backdrops began to scroll, featuring the names of all the victims killed in the attacks. When U2 concluded the emotional performance, Bono tore open his jacket to reveal an American flag. The halftime show garnered rave reviews and in 2009 was named by SI.com as the greatest in history.

2. Rick Monday Saves the Flag

A two-time All-Star, ex-Cubs center fielder Rick Monday is perhaps best known for stopping two protesters from burning an American flag in a play dubbed “the greatest in baseball history.” In regards to the incident, Monday, a former marine, later remarked, “If you’re going to burn the flag, don’t do it around me. I’ve been to too many veterans’ hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it.”

1. Miracle on Ice

Entering the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union was the odds-on favorite to top the podium, winning every ice hockey gold since 1964. Since the United States’ victory in 1960, the Soviets defeated America in every subsequent matchup with a cumulative score of 28-7. In the heart of the Cold War, the Americans and Soviets were natural rivals, but the United States never seemed to gain the upper hand. When the Olympics returned to Lake Placid, where the U.S. captured gold in 1960, momentum had finally shifted in America’s favor. In front of a raucous home crowd, Herb Brooks’ squad edged the Soviets 4-3 en route to Olympic gold.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of LA Public Library, ESPN

Top 5 Tuesday: All-Time NBA Players

After an impressive 4-1 series win, LeBron James finally has the championship ring he has long coveted. The win is crucial to ultimately cementing James’ legacy as one of the NBA’s all-time greats, but for now, LeBron is on the outside looking in. As the debate rages on, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s finest.

Honorable Mentions: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan

5. Larry Bird

A 12-time All-Star and three-time MVP, Boston Celtics star Larry Bird begins our countdown. Throughout his storied career, Bird found success with the help of his well-rounded playing style and high basketball IQ. With career averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, Bird helped lead Boston to three NBA titles, including a seven-game series win over the “Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers. The series was one link in the legendary saga of the Bird-Magic rivalry. Largely cited as the cause for professional basketball’s 1980s boom, the pair’s heated encounters fueled both careers. Since his retirement, Larry has remained involved in the game he loves. Bird is the first and only person to garner MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year honors.

4. Wilt Chamberlain

Perhaps history’s greatest scorer, Wilt Chamberlain posted mind-boggling numbers throughout his career. While sporting career averages of over 30 points and 20 assists per game, Chamberlain peaked in 1961-62 with a record-breaking average of 50.4 points. A quick jaunt throughout any NBA record book proves the extent of Wilt’s domination. Of the more than sixty 60-point outbursts in league history, Wilt accounted for 32, most notably a 100-point performance in March 1962. Chamberlain may lack Bill Russell’s 11 championships, but in 1960 against Russell’s Celtics, Wilt dominated the Boston big man on the boards en route to an NBA-record 55 rebounds, proving his place as early basketball’s premier player.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Behind his signature sky hook, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar soared to success throughout his illustrious 20-year career. At 7’2,” Abdul-Jabbar towered over opponents, but his finesse and footwork helped the Lakers great total an NBA record 38,387 points. On defense, Abdul-Jabbar was a fearsome shot blocker. Had the NBA tracked the stat in his early career, Kareem would likely be the statistical all-time leader, but even without it, he ranks third in history. Kareem’s size and skill translated to success on both ends of the court and ultimately earned Abdul-Jabbar an NBA-record six MVPs.

2. Magic Johnson

As the undisputed greatest point guard in basketball history, Magic found success at every level. He totaled 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game. Under his leadership, the “Showtime” Lakers took the ’80s by storm, winning five NBA titles over the course of the decade. The well-documented rivalry with Boston Celtics star Larry Bird ended in Magic’s favor. In four championship matchups between the two, Johnson won three of four, resulting in two NBA titles and a 1979 NCAA Tournament championship. A 12-time All-Star and three-time MVP, Magic career spanned three decades before it was tragically cut short by HIV in the early ’90s, but had Johnson continued to play, the NBA’s all-time list may have a different king.

1. Michael Jordan

Whether you call him “M.J.,” “Air Jordan,” or “His Airness” — Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with greatness and the obvious choice to top this list. The Bulls star accumulated six championships, six Finals MVPs, five regular season MVPs, and 14 All-Star nods. Jordan totaled an NBA-record career average a 30.12 points per game en route to an NBA-record record ten scoring titles. With his signature drive, MJ proved unstoppable around the basket, and his success continued to spread on and off the court. From Space Jam to the “Flu Game,” from “The Dream Team” to “The Final Shot,” Michael Jordan idealized the NBA and earned a spot as history’s all-time great.

What do you think? Anything we missed? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

* Photos Courtesy of The Hoops Journal, WikipediaSport in Law

Top 5 Tuesday: All-Time NFL Running Backs

On Monday, longtime San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson signed a one-day contract to retire with the team that drafted him. His announcement marks the end of one the NFL’s most prolific running back careers, but did he do enough to crack the top five? As the debate rages on, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has scoured the records to compile five of sports history’s finest.

5. Marshall Faulk

With his rushing accolades alone, the Rams hall of famer is a near lock for this list, but his receiving prowess sets him apart. Long regarded as the NFL’s top receiving back, Faulk averaged an unheard of 64 receptions a year. He remains the only back to ever accumulate over 12,000 yards rushing and 6,000 yards receiving in a career. Faulk proved instrumental in the success of history’s most explosive offense, “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Under his leadership, the Rams blossomed. With the addition of two-time MVP Kurt Warner, the dynamic duo revitalized 1998’s 3-13 squad, culminating in a Super Bowl XXXIV victory.

4. Emmitt Smith

Statistically speaking, Emmitt Smith is NFL history’s most decorated back. In his 14-year career, Smith broke the NFL records for most rushing yards, rushing touchdowns,  and 100-yard rushing games. He remains one of two non-kickers to score more than 1,000 points in a career. With eleven straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Smith cemented himself as one of the ’90s top backs. In addition, his well-documented chemistry with quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin put Dallas in the limelight. As “The Triplets” lit up the scoreboard, the Cowboys surged to three Super Bowl titles.

3. Jim Brown

In the pre-Super Bowl era, no back compares to the legendary Jim Brown. A star in Cleveland, Brown’s combination of size and speed dominated the field. In nine NFL seasons, Brown was an nine-time Pro Bowler while leading the league in rushing a record eight times. Without missing a single game, Brown gained notoriety for his punishing style of play. When describing the Cleveland back, Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey remarked, “He told me, ‘Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts.’ He lived by that philosophy, and I always followed that advice.”

2. Walter Payton

On the field and off the field, Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton made a difference. In his illustrious career, Payton broke the NFL records for most career rushing yards, touchdowns, carries, all-purpose yards, yards from scrimmage, and many more. “Sweetness” rewrote the record books and was a member of the storied ’85 Bears team. Off the field, Payton’s impact resonated far beyond the game of football. Diagnosed with a rare, aggressive liver disease, Walter turned to the role of activist. In his final months, Payton spread national awareness for the need for organ transplants even though it was no longer a viable option for himself. Today, Payton is commemorated annually by the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, an honor bestowed by the NFL upon a player displaying excellence in accomplishing humanitarian goals.

1. Barry Sanders

Throughout NFL history, no man was harder to bring down than the elusive Barry Sanders. With a low center of gravity and legs like tree trunks, Sanders darted through defenses, averaging over 1,500 yards a season. A Pro Bowler in every season, Sanders single-handedly carried the Lions throughout the ’90s. This precisely is what separates Sanders from the rest of history’s greatest. All other running backs had at least one other reliable weapon to lean upon. Faulk had Warner. Emmitt had Aikman. Tomlinson had Sproles. Barry had himself. Opposing defenses knew the ball would land in his hands and strategized accordingly, but time and time again, Barry would do what Barry did best — break tackles, make plays, and run the football.

* Photos Courtesy of 6 Magazine, Emmitt SmithBarry Me Please

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

Top 5 Tuesday: Locks for Gold in London

The 2012 Olympics in London may be over a month away, but it is never too early to take a look ahead. As the world’s greatest athletes prepare to vie for international competition’s most coveted prize, THE SPORTS DISPENCER has compiled a list of this year’s surest gold medal favorites.

5. Michael Phelps

After a record-breaking performance in Beijing, the “Baltimore Bullet” is poised to contend in London. Phelps is past his prime and will fall short of his eight gold medal output in 2008, but his accomplishments at the 2011 World Aquatic Championships prove he is not ready to go down without a fight. In Shanghai, Phelps earned gold in the 100 m and 200 m butterfly in addition to his golds as a member of the 4×100 m medley and 4×200 m freestyle relays. Increased competition from fellow American Ryan Lochte may hamper his odds, but Phelps’ experience and unending work ethic will help the American hero topple Larisa Latynina as history’s most decorated Olympic competitor.

4. Zou Kai

The 5’2” Chinese gymnast may not be tall in stature, but his nation expects big things of him come July. Kai walked away three gold medals in Beijing in the high bar, team, and floor events. Since then, the 24-year-old cruised to victory in both the 2009 and 2011 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships on the high bar. His high-flying acrobatics will delight the world and secure another gold for the gymnastics powerhouse.

3. Ryan Lochte

For the first time in years, a fellow U.S. swimmer has outranked the legendary Michael Phelps. A six-time Olympic medalist, Lochte has long-lived in the shadow of Phelps, but since Beijing, the spotlight has turned to him. At the 2011 World Aquatic Championships, Lochte slayed Goliath twice en route to five gold medals including a world record of 1:54:00 in the 200 m individual medley. In London, Lochte is a runaway favorite in all 200 m disciplines aside from butterfly. If he holds to form, Lochte could join an elite class of U.S. Olympic swimming greats.

2. Usain Bolt

The Jamaican sprinter is not only the fastest man in the world — he is the fastest man in history. At Beijing, Bolt won three golds in three events with three world records. His success has led to worldwide fame and admiration, but between commercial shoots, Bolt has still kept his form on the track. Usain has lowered the world record in the 100 m to a blistering 9.58 while bettering the times in both the 200 m and 4×100 m relay. After sweeping the sprinting events again at 2009 Berlin World Championships, only a false start could slow Bolt at 2011 Games in Daegu. Since his disqualification in 100 m final, Bolt has set his eyes on redemption in London.

1. U.S. Basketball

The United States has long dominated both men’s and women’s basketball — 2012 will be no different. Led by 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, the women’s squad is a runaway favorite in London. With a talented frontcourt anchored by Candace Parker, America’s experience and talent ensure success in international play.

In men’s competition, the U.S. lineup is filled with NBA stars. Even after losses at center, Coach K’s starting lineup is projected to be Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Tyson Chandler. Coming off the bench, they have proven stars in Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The U.S.’s unrivaled depth along with their unquestioned offensive and defensive explosiveness will allow the United States to build upon the Redeem Team’s success in 2008.

* Photos Courtesy of Boston.com, NY Times

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.

Top 5 Tuesday: Euro 2012 Teams

Final preparations are under way in Warsaw for Friday’s kickoff to the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. Here at THE SPORTS DISPENCER, we have put the finishing touches on our compilation of the top five teams to keep an eye on at Euro 2012.

5. Croatia

Slaven Bilić’s squad is prepared to make a deep run in this year’s European Championship. Anchored by captain Darijo Srna, Croatia will rely heavily on its midfield, one of the tourney’s deepest, to advance past the group stage. In a group that contains Spain, Italy, and Ireland, it may seem easy to count out Croatia. They are not a typical powerhouse, and because of this, the Croats seem to fall of the radar. But ultimately, their versatility and depth may carry this sleeper squad to new highs this June.

4. Portugal

Number five in the world, Portugal is one of three teams found in Group B ranked in the top five in FIFA’s world rankings. Placement in the group of death bodes unfavorably, but Portugal possesses one of world soccer’s greatest weapons — Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain’s success directly correlates to the success of the Portuguese national team. In Euro 2004, arguably his best tournament performance, Ronaldo had two goals and two assists as Portugal finished runners-up. In Euro 2008, Ronaldo underwhelmed, recording one goal and one assist as Portugal was defeated in the quarterfinals. Without Ronaldo performing at his best, Portugal faces near certain group stage elimination, but if Ronaldo performs to the best of his abilities, they may be in Kiev come July.

 3. Netherlands

The 2010 World Cup runners-up have reloaded and are primed to contend. Led by Inter star Wesley Sneijder, the Dutch possess a well-balanced squad. Their combination of young talent and veteran leadership creates mismatches all over the field. Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel complement Sneijder in the Netherlands’ aggressive midfield. That aggression will be necessary to contend with Germany and Portugal, two notoriously fierce squads who also find themselves in the group of death. Both have proven their offensive prowess and will bombard goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg throughout the group stage. If the young Roma star can keep Ronaldo and Gomez off their game, the Dutch will find themselves in a familiar place — atop the world stage.

2. Spain

Defending World Cup champions, defending European champions, and number one ranked teams are looked to first as likely contenders. Spain is all three. Over the last five years, the Spanish national team has dominated world soccer. They owe their success in part to F.C. Barcelona central midfielder Xavi. Serving as Spain’s field general, Xavi’s vision leads the Spanish attack. His accurate passing and precise footwork provide an important contribution to Spain’s consistency and experience, both of which have created a seemingly insurmountable edge in recent years. Expect this edge to continue when the Spainards take on Italy on June 10.

1. Germany

Germany possesses Europe’s most elite offensive attack. At forward, Joachim Löw’s squad sports a three-man rotation of Podolski, Klose, and Gomez. Combined, they have accumulated 71 goals this season. Their international success is in part due to the support from Germany’s elite midfield. Club soccer stars Mesut Özil and Bastian Schweinsteiger provide the pace and discipline necessary to dictate the outcomes of games. Combined with Bayern Munich defender Philipp Lahm and goalie Manuel Neuer, the Germans have the defensive presence necessary to hold the leads their front line provides them. This will become an ever-pressing need if Germany wishes to survive the group of death and emerge victorious come July.

* Photos Courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Mirror

What do you think? Anything we missed? Who would you choose? Comment below and let the discussion begin.